Fast, catchy pop punk in the vein of Screeching Weasel, NOFX, and The Descendents will always have a place in my heart. For a lot of us, these were the sounds that got us into punk. Before we had Black Flag and Minor Threat, we listened to the rough but melodic sounds of bands like Lagwagon and The Vandals. I believe that the snotty, I-don’t-give-a-shit vibe of pop punk keeps us young. Maybe this is why I love Utter Failure so much.
Eroding Forces is their debut album, and on it they keep the sweet sounds of fast, tuneful punk rock alive without leaning on an overly polished approached. Utter Failure know how to craft a good time, but they also know how to keep it punk.
“Buffalo and the Up All Night Crew” is the type of song you can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try. I honestly have no idea what it’s about, although I could guess its something charmingly esoteric. This is when I knew Utter Failure were something special. It’s easy to label pop punk as the simplest form of music, but it’s unfair to dismiss it as a talentless form. Writing a great melody, one that works as fast acting Gorilla Glue for your brain is no simple task. But more impressive still is that Eroding Forces is filled with catchy music, and rarely, if ever falters. Throughout it’s nearly twenty-seven minutes, there isn’t a skippable track on Eroding Forces.
Utter Failure keep their music from stagnation with attention grabbing guitar leads. While such an act may be against the strict ethos of the Ramones devout, it reminds us that we are in fact listening to instruments played by musicians and not just chugging, pitch changing static. “Corner of the World” uses leads to great effect– from the descending notes that form the opening riff, to the fantastic flurry that answers to the end of sung line in the verse. “Piano Song From Hell 2” is easily one of the best songs on the album, sounding like a long lost NOFX track. It’s got fast moving progressions, a catchy melody, and everything else that makes these types of songs so great– but it also has some very cool guitar work, including a menacing solo of a much longer duration than we’re used to.
Utter Failure can write great, catchy, (dare I say, beautiful?) pop punk. They can cater to my love of that piercing arsenal of musical expression that is the guitar lead. But, where so many pop punk bands let me down is in the lyric department. When combining pop and punk, you’ve got to ask yourself what you’re taking from each side. The fear is always that the music will sound punk to a varying degree, but essentially be pop music in subject matter. There are some punks that appreciate songs about girls, cars, and friends, but I personally don’t have much of a taste for it. To me, punk rock should be at least a little subversive. Luckily, Utter Failure don’t shy away from speaking their mind on tracks such as “Johnny Taliban” and “I Won’t Apologize.” One of my favorite songs is the fuck up anthem, “Psychological Breakdown.” Opening with the couplet, “People say I smoke too much pot, but that’s too bad because I like it a lot,” the narrator paints a picture of unashamed substance addiction. There’s a lot of classic punk themes here– boredom is probably the biggest (which begs the question, is being bored punk rock’s progenitor? Did boredom with our current culture push us towards creating our own?), but a lot could also be said for it’s inspiration from another famous punk song, “Nervous Breakdown.”
Eroding Forces never lets up. Utter Failure bring a sense of fun and youthfulness to their music that I haven’t heard in awhile. They play with the enthusiastic energy of people still excited about playing music. They sing with the passion of people who still think they can make a difference. Eroding Forces is a friendly reminder that we weren’t always jaded, cynical, bastards– there was a time when punk was fresh and exciting and it’s a time worth revisiting.